Monthly Archives: May 2009

I Am Not Afraid

I am a trail runner.  Before I even knew there was a name for it, I was a trail runner.  The first time I can remember running on a trail I was eight years old.  My family had moved out of the city into a trailer park in the country.  Other kids would roller skate or ride their bikes around the circle of trailers that was our neighborhood.  But not me.  Circles were not for me.  The minute I saw the trail leading between two trailers into the woods and heard that it lead to an abandoned railroad track and had trails leading off of it into the woods I abandoned my bike and headed into the woods.  I remember the other kids warning me about the Maco Ghost and the hermit who lived in the woods.  But I wasn’t scared.  Somehow I knew I belonged there, running on those trails.  I went every chance I was given.  I tried to talk my friends into joining me.  I found new trails with every run.  Some were clear others were not.  I would come home pouring sweat, legs covered in blood from the blackberry brambles but I didn’t care.  I had found a home.  A place I belonged.

Today, thirty two years later, I still love the trails.  I can’t resist them.  I hunt them out.  I am a trail runner even though the warnings are still there.

“Aren’t you afraid?”

“Don’t you worry about being attacked?”

“Didn’t you see the sign about copperheads?”

“What if you fall and break a leg?”

I laugh and explain that no, I am not afraid.  I have a better chance of wrecking my car on the way to the trail than being hurt on them.

As I have gotten older I have learned to take more precautions. I always carry a cell phone.  I go at times when I know a trail is going to be most populated and I let my husband know where I am going to be.  But I am not scared.

In a strange way I think this fearlessness was a gift from my mother.  Way back then, when I first became a trail runner I was scared.  Not of the hermit who lived in the woods or the ghost we all claimed to have seen but of my mother.  I was scared every moment of every day, until the day I found those trails.  On those trails I found a peace I had never known.  I ran into those woods to escape a life of fear.  I was running away but I was also running to something.  I was running to the athlete I would become.  I was running to the beauty life has to offer.  I was running to a world of comfort I didn’t have at home.

I run on the trails now for different reasons.  I run to let go of the stress of parenthood or to feel my body responding to the ups and downs of the ground.  I run to feel my heart beating faster and the burn in my legs.  Often, I run just to see what is down a particular trail.  Will there be a stream, or a railroad track or a dilapidated house beside a manmade pond?  But I never run without a sense of gratitude for the trail and where it has lead me or the gifts of peace it has given me.  I am a trail runner and I am not afraid.  I am a trail runner and I always will be.

Previously published in Trail Runner Magazine’s eNewsletter, Inside Dirt May 2009

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New Discoveries

We hear a lot about discovering ourselves.  About becoming a better person
through self discovery.  I am a little afraid of what I might discover about
myself.  I am not sure that I can be put into categories.  As so many of my
character traits seem to contradict the one before it.

For example, I am a person who has great difficulty thinking outside of the
box.  A few years back we spent a summer in London while my husband
completed an internship.   Though we had a furnished apartment, I came to
realize that it was probably furnished by a single man.  Within the first
few hours I discovered that there were no dish towels and as we hadn’t made
a stop at the grocery store on the way in there were also no paper towels.
And here is where the “not thinking outside of the box” comes in.  One of
the children spilled their drink and I was at a loss as to how to clean it
up.  Luckily, my friend Ann had no such problem.  She reached down, grabbed
one of the children’s socks right off their foot and cleaned up the spill.
It was like witnessing a miracle.  How in the world had she ever thought to
do that?

I am also the person who might stand dumbfounded at the gym if someone is on
my treadmill.  I realize that there are fifteen other treadmills but that
one is away from the fan which is too much for just a warm up run.  It is
also directly in front of the television that plays ESPN and more
importantly plays the Top Ten Plays every morning for my warm up run as
though it were playing it just for me.

So maybe you could describe me as rigid.  But no, that wouldn’t be quite
right.  Most of my friends are amazed at how I fly by the seat of my pants.
That same summer I would wake up and have my cup of coffee and peruse the
travel book I kept on the kitchen table.  Should we go to the Science Museum
or go see the statue of Peter Pan in Hyde Park?  No, we should definitely
jump on a train and head down to Brighton Beach.  Fifteen minutes later with
an empty backpack and two kids in tow we would be out the door, only phoning
hubby when we were on the train.  That summer we did visit the museums that
London offered but we also saw the tunnels under Dover Castle and Deer Park
behind Windsor Castle.  And countless other far flung places, all on the
spur of the moment.

A couple of years later we moved outside of London to the village of
Wimbledon.  I loved it.  My favorite part was my getting lost runs or bikes.
I would head out the front door with twenty pounds and a credit card in my
pocket and just run or ride.  I would go for hours.  I would turn down any
road that looked interesting.  With running, this usually meant a trip into
the city.  Through Chatham and the busy traffic, along the Thames Path and
around the city or out the other side into East London.  On my bike I was
known to go as far out as Windsor which was some fifty miles away.  Either
way I would keep an eye out for towns that had train stations and use the
train to get back home.  Getting lost runs were the best.

I am also the person who gets excited every time my husband mentions the
possibility of living in some exotic foreign country.  He came home a few
months ago and asked what I would think about living in Dubai.  “Sure,” I
said, “Where is it?”  Hong Kong?  Let’s go.  Singpore? No problem.

So maybe I am a free spirit.  Well, sort of, I guess.  Four year ago we
moved back to Maryland.  Apparently just a mile from the picturesque Severn
River.  I say apparently because four days a week for the past four years,
that is eight hundred and thirty two times, I have run out of my
neighborhood and headed left.  I thought I was being adventurous.  No
neighborhood running for me.  I would head left which would give me the
option of two different trails or a small wooded park.  I wouldn’t be caught
dead running through the streets of our neighborhood.  I was too adventurous
for that.  Which explains why I never went right.  Going right I could
either run on the main road up toward the high school or cross the road into
another section of our neighborhood and run on the neighborhood streets.
Why on earth would I want to do that?  I had never even driven in that part
of the neighborhood so why would I run there?

I am not sure how the body of water on my GPS in my SUV never registered in
my brain but quite clearly it didn’t.  And then yesterday for the first time
in four years I decided I wasn’t really up for the same run.  I couldn’t
face any of my three choices.  So, gasp, I went right.  I went right and ran
through the other section of our neighborhood.  But here is what I
discovered.  There is another entrance into our neighborhood which was
apparently the original entrance.  Wow, that was something I didn’t know
before.  But even more important discoveries were to follow.  If you go out
of that original entrance there is a whole world I have never seen.  First
of all there are actual hills.  Hills that I have been complaining about
missing since we moved back from the rolling hills of Surrey.  These new
hills were big rolling hills that rolled their way right down to, you guessed
it, right down to the water’s edge.  The minute I saw it I wanted to run
home and tell my husband about my discovery but I didn’t.  I ran along the
banks of the river and watched the geese fly low over the water.  I watched
the kayaks out for a just before dusk paddle and I marveled at my discovery.
I started fantasizing about my next run.  I will run at daybreak and watch
the sun rise.  I will run here in the summer when the water will cool the
air.  I will run here with my baby in the jog stroller and take my time
while he hunts for the blue heron on the banks.  Once I came out of my
reverie, I turned around and ran as fast as my short little legs would carry
me back to my house to drag my husband along the same route before the sun
went down.  I am proud to say that my husband was just as clueless as I had
been but also just as amazed by the beauty of the discovery.

Here I am, the lady who friends call when they want to venture into DC or
take a road trip to the far reaches of the Maryland, Virginia or
Pennsylvania countryside because I am the most adventurous person they know.
Here I am, the lady who flies by the seat of her pants and hops a train on a
moment’s notice.  Here I am, the lady who is not afraid to move half way
across the world or to get lost in a foreign land.  But here I am, the lady
who lives a mile from one of the most beautiful places in the world and took
four years and eight hundred and thirty two attempts to find it.  So who am
I?  What have I discovered?  I think it is that I am a discoverer with a
rigid spirit that bends only under more discovery.  So out I will head.  Out
my door and around every corner to a new discovery of the world around me.

Previously published in the May/June edition of the Washington Running Report

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